THE ROTHKO ROOM: JOURNEYS IN SILENCEand other recent piano works by Haskell Small
HASKELL SMALL, piano
World Premiere Recordings
“If you want to hear what decades of dedication and hard work sound like, purchase a copy of Haskell Small's recording of original music for piano. This is a man who has mastered his craft as a composer. He also happens to play the piano beautifully... [A Glimpse of Silence] is a masterclass in giving shape and direction to sustained sounds and silences, which, in a sense, is the overarching theme of the collection. Once again, we witness an artist at the summit of his creative powers, moulding beautiful sculptures from the most basic elements of our sonic universe.”
Andrew Schartmann, Music & Vision [June 2015]
“[The Rothko Room is] an effective piece that sustains interest throughout its subdued, rather atonal, bell-like opening through several contrasting sections which contain momentary driving ostinatos, very tonal chorale-like excursions, polytonal block chords, and a return to the bell-like motive... Haskell Small, the pianist, certainly knows what to do with Haskell Small, the composer. The challenge in performing a piece such as Rothko would seem to me to be the pacing of the piece. Much of it is quite episodic, and the space between the notes is as important as the notes themselves. In lesser hands, the piece would not cohere, but Small sees that it does so quite splendidly.... Haskell Small’s music is well worth exploring, and he gives it what sound to my ears to be superlative performances, and the recording engineer has well captured the piano sound. Heartily recommended.”
David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare [January/February 2015]
“Responding to the Tate Modern’s famous ‘Rothko Room’, Small’s half-hour work is an ambitious structure which outlines Mark Rothko’s life. The opening is an ethereal, mystical atmosphere with bell-like sonorities. The temptation is of course to make comparisons with something like Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, but this is a different world. The elemental is explored from about 10 minutes in with a driving rhythmic section portraying Rothko’s earlier interests in primitive art. The still atmosphere of the opening then returns, with sparse triads growing into a section which at times recalls Olivier Messiaen’s luminescence and sense of spiritual transcendence. This descends into the darker lower regions of the piano – beauty always struggling against a sense of doom, symbolising Rothko’s mental illness and ultimate suicide... The Rothko Room is a highly charged and moving experience... this large musical canvas stands on its own terms, and even if they arrived at the concert too late to pick up a programme I would guess most listeners will recognise this as a powerfully atmospheric and potently expressed work whatever its initial inspiration... [Visions of Childhood] are poignant and playful pieces, but by no means simplistic or really childish – the filter of sophistication is firmly fixed over the lightly Vaseline-treated lens, and these evocations conjure a wide variety of associations with a little help from the likes of Grieg or Martinů, perhaps even Scriabin, and indeed Schumann. These are however by no means pastiche sketches. Each piece has its own strong character and identity while retaining membership of the cycle – superbly crafted and played with admirably kaleidoscopic colours... this is top-notch playing of some fascinating new and compelling piano works, and as such is self-recommending.”
Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International [July 2014]
“You really like to get these kinds of discs in the mail. A composer playing his own music on a small label always has appeal, this project was an entirely worthy one. Haskell Small is an accomplished pianist and teacher whose own works show a great deal of emotional depth and creativity. The pieces here are currently on tour throughout the US, making this release both timely and musically important. Beautifully recorded on Haskell's Steinway, piano fans looking for something different should find much to enjoy here.. Journeys in Silence is a startlingly vivid biography of the artists' troubled life. There is angst and pain here, but also great reflection and beauty. The work is huge, nearly a half-hour in length, but captures the ear all the way through. Part of that is undoubtedly because it lives up to its title; the use of silence in this music is effective and adds to the considerable drama and tension. Small is magnificent. In a big piece like this – big, but without many virtuoso passages – the key is emotional involvement and dynamic contrast. To his credit, he's able to give his output a real sense of discovery and purpose. The result is exceptionally fine... [this is a] recital that is thought-provoking and makes us look at the importance of silence in our childhood, adulthood, and perhaps beyond. This is a very difficult disc, but one with tremendous rewards.”
Brian Wigman, ClassicalNet [June 2014]
“...the concept of silence can be interestingly interpreted with music, which is what Haskell Small (born 1948) tries to do in...Small has a particular fascination with silence as interpreted through music: he is a fine and wide-ranging pianist, and one work with which he is particularly associated is the more-than-hour-long Música Callada by Frederic Mompou. With Small’s new MSR Classics CD, devoted entirely to world première recordings of his own music, it is easy to see the silence/sound dichotomy to which Small is attracted. Parts of The Rothko Room, which as a whole is a narrative of the life of Rothko (1903-1970), are tumultuous, while others make their points quietly or without sound altogether... A Glimpse of Silence, a shorter and more-straightforward piece, has an overall feeling of quiet and mysticism, with a predominant mood of serenity.Visions of Childhood is the most immediately appealing work on this disc [having] a pleasantly nostalgic feel... this CD is a fair introduction to the composer/pianist’s thinking in recent years and in particular to his interest in having his works encompass large themes, including that of silence, within musical structures that verge on the miniature.”
InfoDad [June 2014]
“...the concept of silence can be interestingly interpreted with music, which is what Haskell Small tries to do in The Rothko Room and A Glimpse of Silence. Small has a particular fascination with silence as interpreted through music: he is a fine and wide-ranging pianist, and one work with which he is particularly associated is the more-than-hour-long Música Callada by Frederic Mompou. With Small’s new MSR Classics CD, devoted entirely to world première recordings of his own music, it is easy to see the silence/sound dichotomy to which Small is attracted... this (+++) CD is a fair introduction to the composer/pianist’s thinking in recent years and in particular to his interest in having his works encompass large themes, including that of silence, within musical structures that verge on the miniature.”
InfoDad.com [May 2014]
Haskell Small Performs A GLIMPSE OF SILENCE (YouTube)
Music is the space between the notes.
I do not believe that there was ever a question of being abstract or representational. It is really a matter of ending this silence and solitude, of breathing, and stretching one’s arms; again transcendental experiences became possible.
Go uses the most elemental materials and concepts — line and circle, wood and stone, black and white — combining them with simple rules to generate subtle strategies and complex tactics that stagger the imagination.
Iwamoto Kaoru, 9-dan professional Go player and former Honinbo title holder
Meditations on silence and space are as structurally important to the creative life of Haskell Small as are the grids on his beloved Go board. And, just as with that ancient and revered “game” (using that word advisedly), vast complexity arises. The natural progression that flowed from Small’s relationship with the Phillips Collection—one that bore fruit with the solo piano work “Renoir’s Feast,” commissioned by the Collection to celebrate their great centerpiece painting “Luncheon of the Boating Party”—allowed substantial exposure to the Phillips’ incomparable Rothko room. The four works bought from the artist mostly in the ‘50s struck the fancy of the wonderful collector Duncan Phillips, who said of these pieces (and the artist in general), “What we recall are not memories, but old emotions disturbed or resolved—some sense of well being suddenly shadowed by a cloud—yellow ochres strangely suffused with a drift of gray prevailing over an ambience of rose or the fire diminishing into a glow of embers, or the light when the night descends.”
Curiously, it was not these particular works that struck our composer’s fancy initially. While in London in 2008, he came upon the Tate Modern’s wildly popular Rothko exhibit, the one that positioned many of the Red series in a single room. We should note that the following year, John Logan’s magic play about Rothko, “Red,” premiered in London, and in 2010 it won the Tony Award for best play of the year when it came to New York.
What Haskell Small called the “animation and passion” of these works he saw in London, enriched by the theatrical experience, led to the primary composition we hear on this recording.
One other evolutionary note: during the years leading up to the Tate visit, Small had been mastering the complex meditation on the spirituality of silence by Federico Mompou entitled “Musica Callada” (MSR CD MS1282), which he also performed in one of his regular concerts at the Phillips.
HASKELL SMALL is an accomplished pianist and composer, who often performs his own works. He has received commissions from such organizations as the Washington Ballet, Three Rivers Piano Competition, Georgetown Symphony and Paul Hill Chorale, and he was the winner of the 1999 Marin Ballet Dance Score Competition. From 2000 to 2003, Small was composer-in-residence with the Mount Vernon Orchestra. In 2005, he completed Renoir’s Feast, a commission by the Phillips Collection to celebrate the return of their beloved painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party. Recently published by PeerMusic, Renoir’s Feast paired with his Lullaby of War, a work commissioned and premiered by noted pianist Soheil Nasseri, are featured in a new recording on Naxos.
Small has recorded and released a number of CDs of his own chamber and solo music, as well as of Federico Mompou’s Musica Callada (declared “A Golden Silence” by the Washington Post), a Gershwin disc, and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations. He is currently preparing a recording of J.S. Bach’s Partitas and also a disc of piano music by Alan Hovhaness, inspired by the spirituality of mountains.
In recent seasons, Small has played recitals in London, Paris and in Japan; participated in the 2007 Festival of American Music in Poland and the 2010 American Music Festival in Iceland; as well as premiering The Rothko Room: Journeys in Silence at the Phillips Collection in 2011.
In Fall 2013, Small toured the United States with his “Journeys in Silence” program, performing Musica Callada in churches and monasteries in New York, California and Washington state. He also performed in Istanbul his arrangement for six pianists at one piano of V. Monti’s Czardas, first performed by Small with eleven colleagues from the Washington Conservatory of Music for the 2013 TEDMED conference in Washington’s Kennedy Center. A YouTube video of this performance has nearly reached one million views. Small continued his “Journeys in Silence” tour in early 2014 with performances of The Rothko Room in museums around the country, as well as in the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.
Haskell Small received his musical training at the San Francisco Conservatory and Carnegie-Mellon University, and has studied piano with Leon Fleisher, William Masselos, Harry Franklin and Jeanne Behrend. He studied composition with Roland Leich and Vincent Persichetti, and is the Piano Department Chair of the Washington Conservatory of Music.
[ www.haskellsmall.com ]
HASKELL SMALL (b. 1948)
THE ROTHKO ROOM: JOURNEYS IN SILENCE (2010)
VISIONS OF CHILDHOOD (2011)
A Long Time Ago
A Little Story
Look at Me!
A GLIMPSE OF SILENCE (2013)